Wednesday, May 28, 2008

COMMENT: Reading list ...

The folks at are serving up an intellectual feast of profiles and interviews from the Sydney Writers' Festival.

For those who think conservatives are, by definition, people without principle and a bunch of war-mongers (and for the rest of the world), I recommend reading Richard Broinowski's profile of American Professor of International Relations and Vietnam veteran Dr Andrew Bacevich. Here's a taste ...

Now Professor of International Relations at Boston University, Bacevich is a West Point graduate, a principled man on the conservative side of politics who considered it wrong for wealthy citizens to leave the fighting of America's wars to the poor and disadvantaged. He fought with the US Infantry in the southern highlands of Vietnam, and his son, a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the United States Army, volunteered for duty in Iraq ...
Bacevich is the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, one of the most trenchant accounts I have read about contemporary American military culture. It should give any thinking Australian pause about the growing influence of American doctrine, strategy, training, equipment and choice of weapons over the Australian Defence Force.

He asserts that modern American militarism began in the late 1960s as a reaction to the humiliating defeat in Vietnam. It was driven by military officers intent on rehabilitating their profession, intellectuals fearing that the loss of confidence at home was paving the way for the triumph of totalitarianism abroad, religious leaders dismayed by the collapse of moral values, strategists stung by the worthlessness of their war schemes, politicians on the make, and purveyors of pop culture looking for a buck.

NewMatilda boss Rod McGuinness talks food with the guru of food Michael Pollan. Try spreading these paragraphs with your hommus ...

Pollan acknowledges that the cheapest calories are soy and corn based ones - both heavily subsidised in the US. These are rife in popular food products such as bread, soft drink and TV dinners, found in formats such as soy lecithin, corn starches and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCP). When asked how we can be expected to eat better when the cheapest and most accessible food is largely unhealthy, Pollan says he sees the growth of farmers markets as critical. Although he doesn't suggest subsidising the production of perishable foods such as carrots and broccoli, he does believe policymakers should subsidise their cost to consumers.

Another strategy is learning to cook. Regardless of social class, studies indicate that people who cook their own food are healthier than those who don't. Education on better eating is important but what about education about the (less healthy) foods we currently eat?
Meanwhile, resident village-idiot Irfan Yusuf (no doubt genuine village idiots like Tim Blair and that dude from the Herald-Sun will quote me on that) celebrates a session of political mud-wrestling between Robert Manne and Tony Abbott ...

Most explosive of all was Abbott's call for a constitutional change to extend Commonwealth legislative powers. He might be right, but I somehow think we'll have to become a republic first. States-rights conservatives beware.

Abbott tried to paint himself as the underdog, recognising Tom Switzer, Christopher Pearson and Peter Coleman as the only conservatives in the audience. I'm not sure if many in the audience even recognised these names. This certainly didn't stop them from agreeing with Abbott's declaration that Kevin Rudd positioning himself as an economic conservative meant that we were now all conservatives.

Sadly, Abbott lost many of these sympathetic punters when he compared Nelson to "Australia's most successful conservative leader" - apprarently Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Robert Manne didn't have it all his own way either. When an audience member asked Abbott and Manne whether they were aware of the concept of peak oil, Abbott may have looked silly for admitting he didn't know the precise meaning of the term, but at least he was honest. Manne attempted a vague explanation, which lead to a wave of frowns through the audience.

You guessed it. This SWF session was free!

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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